News in Brief

Vivendi boss ousts Canal+ CEO; NTL splits in two; and IFP launches a virtual conference.
April 18, 2002

Vivendi Universal chief executive Jean-Marie Messier has forced out Pierre Lescure, CEO of the Canal+ pay-TV group. The announcement was made by Messier at an impromptu press conference that also named Xavier Couture, director of broadcasting, sports and special events at TF1, as Lescure’s replacement. Only four days earlier, on Friday April 12, Canal+ COO Denis Oliveness resigned from his post in protest of Messier’s leadership. The departure of 56-year-old Lescure, who helped found Canal Plus in 1984, was opposed by many Canal+ employees and supporters, who took to the street in protest. One demonstrator painted the slogan ‘Messier is a Universal Idiot’ on the facade of the outlet’s headquarters, reports The Wall Street Journal.

How Lescure’s departure effects Canal+’s documentary department remains uncertain, but the string of shake-ups at the outlet are beginning to take their toll. Documentary director Anna Glogowski recently remarked that coproduction activity within the unit had been significantly reduced.

U.K. cable company NTL has reached an unofficial deal that sees the company split in two in an effort to manage its US$17 billion debt. The agreement proposes NTL divide into separate U.K. and Ireland operations, to be controlled by NTL’s bondholders. A company, to be called Euroco, will take over activities in Switzerland, France, Germany and Sweden (86.5% controlled by the bondholders). Some subsidiaries will file for Chapter 11, and NTL’s bank debt – $4 billion in the UK and $2 billion in Switzerland – will remain in place. The agreement awaits approval by NTL’s banks and NTL’s minority bondholders.

Mexico-based cablecaster Cablevision has launched an IPO of 49% of its shares on the Mexican stock market. The shares were previously owned by Mexican businessman Carlos Slim, who priced the shares at 15 Pesos (US$1.65), a marker that grants Cablevision a $500 million value.

Granada in the U.K. has entered into a third format coproduction deal, this time with Glem TV in France, a subsidiary of TF1. The deal gives Glem first-look at Granada’s formats, with the option to coproduce the programs. As reported in last week’s Plus, Granada has struck similar deals with Nordisk Film in Denmark, and TeVe in Holland.

Eurodata TV Worldwide has released stats from its report that reviews the global television landscape for 2001. According to the survey, reality fare is holding strong. Of the 70 territories surveyed, 17 counted Who Wants to Be a Millionaire among the top 10 shows (it ranked 14th last year). Big Brother was in the top 10 in 11 territories. Another detail of note: Only 10 territories had a news show among the top-ranking programs. The finding is surprising given the attention to news that resulted from the events of September 11, and indicates viewers turned to cable and satellite channels for this coverage.

The Sundance Channel has acquired U.S. TV rights for a package of films – seven features and one short – from New York, U.S.- based distributor Zeitgeist Films. Among the feature films are three documentaries: Kim Synder’s I Remember Me; Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir’s The Brandon Teena Story; and The Gleaners and I by Agnes Varda.

In an ongoing effort to broaden its mandate to include technology lifestyle programming, San Francisco, U.S.-based TechTV has introduced a new series titled The Tech Of…. Composed of single-subject half-hours, the series will show the inner working of things ranging from food to race cars. TechTV is also looking to acquire more technology-based programming and coproduction partners.

The Independent Feature Project (IFP) in New York, U.S. plans to launch Virtual Doc Conference, an online discussion about the craft and business of documentary filmmaking. The conference will take place on the D-Word web site ( four times a year, and will be hosted by D-Word founder Doug Block. The first chat will take place from April 22 to 28 and will focus on ‘Selling your Doc in the International Marketplace.’ Jan Rofekamp of Montreal-based distrib Films Transit will log onto the site twice a day to answer questions from participants.

Miramax Films has picked up Comedian, a documentary that chronicles actor/stand-up comedian Jerry Seinfeld‘s year on the road after his hit TV show Seinfeld went off the air. The doc is produced by Gary Streiner and directed by Christian Charles, the Ogilvy and Mather ad execs behind Seinfeld’s American Express commercials.

Argentina’s broadcast regulator has denied cablecaster Telecentro‘s bid to acquire TVS, a smaller outlet in La Matanza near Buenos Aires. The decision was based on concerns that the acquisition would limit competition in the area and reduce channel offerings.

The fifth installment of the U.S. Survivor series will take place on Tarutau island in Thailand. During World War II, the island was used as a jail for political prisoners.

Zone Vision, a London, U.K.-based thematic channel producer and distributor, has signed a carriage deal with Romania Cable Systems (RCS), which counts more than 250,000 subscribers.

About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.